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Jean Schumacher: Christmas tradition continues without patriarch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- We must have started our Christmas Eve buffet tradition more than 30 years ago.

My late husband, Bob, who couldn't even fry an egg, suddenly developed a desire to be a cookie baker. He dearly loved Christmas, mainly because he liked being with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He had a couple of specialties he baked already. A great cheesecake, a wonderful coffeecake and his puff pastries with pepperoni. He wanted to make all his cookies in large quantities, so he bought an industrial-size electric mixer. He probably thought I had enough to do with shopping and cleaning, and it was a great help to me.

Lace cookies were one of our favorites. There were oatmeal cookies, potato chip cookies, and the ones with a Hershey's Kiss in the center.

This year, several children will bring more cookies. Earlier, Lisa froze four double batches of cookie batter, and we baked them on Friday. Debbie made a double batch of the lace cookies, and Steve will bring a double recipe of broccoli bread.

A couple of days ago, I baked the single-recipe ones -- seven layer, Christmas wreaths, West Virginia brownies, tea-time tassies, eggnog cookies and butter almond. Daughters Lynne and Lisa helped with these.

Many of our family -- from children to grandchildren and great-grandchildren -- will be here for the celebration. Usually no more than two or three will miss it, and regretfully.

The cookies used to be stowed in colorful tins behind our huge tree; this year they will be in plain sight with just a smaller tree on a table.

We decided to celebrate Christmas Eve on the night of Dec. 23 this year.

On Dec. 22 we prepared turkey breast and sliced the ham. Today, the trays of sliced ham and turkey, cheeses, sliced bread, a double recipe of puff pastries with pepperoni, a large slow-cooker filled with "ranch beans," a crabmeat dip, one or two cheese balls, a selection of crackers and whatever else the family decides to make for the festivities, perhaps even the famous cheesecake.

They will arrive around 6 p.m. There will be opening of gifts and some tears for Bob, who dearly loved this get-together. Last year, he was in a nursing home -- his last Christmas -- and I can still hear him saying, "How can it be Christmas without me?"

When smiling and happy children and grandchildren start arriving, it does become very festive and happy. It can't be the same, but life and Christmas go on.

Seeing the happy, twinkling eyes of the smiling young ones always make it worth all the hard work that goes in to it.

Jean Schumacher, of Charleston, may be emailed at jandbschu@hotmail.com.


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